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Thoughts on Baptism

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    INSTANCES OF BAPTISM

    John baptized in the river Jordan. Christ, our pattern, was baptized in the Jordan. The record says, “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water.Matthew 3:16. Alas, how many professed followers of Christ would be ashamed to go down into the water to be baptized; be ashamed to be seen coming up out of the water, as Jesus their Lord was seen!TOB 40.3

    “John also was baptizing in Ænon, near to Salim, because there was much water there.” John 3:23. The reason here given for baptizing in that place looks unmistakably to the same action as we find indicated in Matthew 3, baptizing in a body of water. We may safely leave it to the judgment of every reader that this reason would never be offered in favor of the modern practice of rhantism, if it can even be called that; as we recently saw a minister barely touch the ends of his fingers in water, and lay them upon the head of a child. Water was not even sprinkled upon the child. Nothing of that kind is found in the language of the New Testament.TOB 41.1

    The circumstances attending the baptism of the eunuch afford important evidence on this subject. First, we notice in this case the importance of baptism in the preaching of the gospel. Philip “preached unto him Jesus,” and in the same interview the eunuch desired baptism, which proves that the preaching of Jesus included preaching baptism in the ministry of the apostles and evangelists. How different was this from the teaching and preaching of many at the present day.TOB 41.2

    Secondly, we notice that they both went down into the water, and there Philip baptized the eunuch. And together they came up out of the water. This is not consistent with the idea of any administration but that of immersion. The only remark we find in Prof. Stuart on baptism which gives occasion to doubt his candor as a writer, is on this text. He says:—TOB 41.3

    “If katabesan eis to hudor is meant to designate the act of plunging or being immersed into the water, as a part of the rite of baptism, then was Philip baptized as well as the eunuch; for the sacred writer says that both went into the water. Here, then, must have been a rebaptism of Philip; and what is at least singular, he must have baptized himself as well as the eunuch.”TOB 42.1

    These remarks are entirely uncalled for by the record; they are as unworthy of the man who wrote them as of the subject on which they are written. Going down into the water is a necessary prerequisite to baptism (but not to sprinkling); but no one ever claimed or even thought that katabesan eis to hudor expresses “the action of plunging or being immersed.” We fear the idea sprung up in the mind of a theologian rather than of a critic; for almost the next sentence says “kai ebaptisen auton,“ “and he baptized him.” This excludes every possibility of obscurity.TOB 42.2

    It is true that they both went down into the water, and this is always the case when immersion is practiced. The administrator and subject both go down into the water. But going down into the water is not and was not baptism. Does the record say they both went down into the water and were baptized? No. “They went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.” It is no part of candor nor of reverence for the Scriptures to raise a dust over such plain and unmistakable testimony as this.TOB 42.3

    A doubt has been raised about there having been sufficient water for immersion in this instance, because verse 26 speaks of the country as being “desert.” The word desert, (erçmos) does not necessarily mean a dry, barren place, destitute of water or vegetation, as may be supposed, but a solitary, uninhabited region. See Greenfield, and compare Matthew 14:13, 15, 19. This scripture says they were in “a desert place apart,” and because it was desert, and the day was passing, the disciples requested Jesus to send away the multitude that they might go into the villages and procure food. But he commanded the multitude to “sit down on the grass” and he fed them there. So far the point is proved. In the case in question, Acts 8, they came to standing water, as is indicated by the sudden exclamation of the eunuch,—“See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” Travelers who have passed “from Jerusalem to Gaza,” say there were springs and pools on the route quite sufficient for the purpose.TOB 42.4

    “The Bourdeaux Pilgrim, less than three hundred years after the event [a. d. 333], described with care its situation. His note is (as he advances from Bethlehem): ‘Thence to Bethazsora is fourteen miles, where is the fountain in which Philip baptized the eunuch. Thence to the oak where Abraham dwelt, is nine miles. Thence to Hebron is two miles.’ Eusebius, on the word Bethsur, has the following note: ‘Bethsur of the tribe of Judah or Benjamin. There is also now a village Bethsoron, twenty miles distant from Jerusalem toward Hebron, where also a fountain issuing from a mountain is shown, in which the eunuch of Candace is said to have been baptized by Philip.’ Jerome in like manner says on the same word: ‘Bethsur in the tribe of Judah or Benjamin. And there is at this day a village Bethsoron, to us going from Jerusalem to Hebron, at the twentieth milestone; near which a fountain, boiling up at the foot of a mountain, is absorbed by the same soil from which it springs, and the Acts of the Apostles record that the eunuch of Queen Candace was baptized in this by Philip.’”TOB 43.1

    These quotations are taken from a recent American traveler, Rev. G. W. Samson. The following is from Mr. Samson’s own observation:—TOB 44.1

    “Starting now from Jerusalem on the route thus indicated, let us view the facilities for immersion along its course, and especially at the spot where history has fixed the eunuch’s baptism. Proceeding on horses at the ordinary rate of three miles an hour, in two hours and thirty minutes we reach the three immense pools of Solomon, from which water was conducted to Jerusalem. In Christ’s day they were little lakes of water, for the three cover about three acres of ground, and when filled they furnished all needed facilities for immersion, lying open, as they do, and in a retired valley. Even now, such is the quantity of water in the lower pool, that a more convenient place for the sacred ordinance could hardly be desired. Proceeding thence over hill and dale, and through one long valley, which, from the number of its wells, the muleteers call Wady el-Beer, the Valley of Wells, in one hour and fifty minutes more we stopped on a hillside to water our horses, and to drink at a large reservoir with an arched roof, from which the water is drawn up with a bucket. Of this place Dr. Robinson says: ‘The road up the ascent is artificial; half way up is a cistern of rain-water, and an open place of prayer for the Mohammedan travelers.’ At this spot, immersion would not be difficult. Descending thence into the fine valley before us, crossing it, and ascending on the opposite side, in thirty-five minutes more we reached the ruins of an ancient town, which our muleteer calls Howoffnee, but which Dr. Robinson has marked Abu Fid; mentioning ‘olive-trees, and tillage around, and a reservoir of rain-water.’ This reservoir lies in the open field, with a grassy brink around it. It is fifty or sixty feet square, and it is now, in the last of April, full of water, the depth being apparently from three to five feet. It is evidently ancient, the walls being built up of large hewn stones. A fitter place for immersion could not be desired. Proceeding onward, through a country quite open and considerably cultivated, in one hour and five minutes we reach, at the foot of a long, steep hill, the ruins of a fortress or church on the left of our road.... In front of the fortress by us is a fine gushing fountain of sweet water, and broad stone troughs in which we water our horses. This spot has been fixed on by Dr. Robinson as the Bethsur mentioned by Eusebius and Jerome as the place where the eunuch was baptized.... The ground in front of the fountain and of the structure behind it is so broken up and covered with stones, that it is difficult to determine what was once here. There is now a slightly depressed hollow with a sandy or gravelly bottom. It is hardly conceivable that, in the days of Herod, the fountain-builder, this most favorable spring should not have been made to supply a pool in this land of such structures; and even now water sufficient to supply such a reservoir flows from the troughs and soaks into the soil.”TOB 44.2

    Omitting notice of all other places, we give evidence only in regard to the route traveled by the eunuch “from Jerusalem to Gaza,” as on this there has been so much doubt and misapprehension. We find,—TOB 46.1

    1. The word erçmos (desert) signifies an uninhabited region, and not necessarily an arid, barren plain. Proved also by Matthew 14.TOB 46.2

    2. The route traveled by the eunuch is a land of hills and dales, mountains and valleys, much of it fit for cultivation.TOB 46.3

    3. There are on this route numerous springs and pools of water; some of the pools are open to this day, while appearances indicate that others were open in the days of the Saviour.TOB 46.4

    This shows how needlessly wrong it is to doubt against the plain language of the Scriptures.TOB 46.5

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